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APQP: A Strong Approach to NPI (New Product Introduction)

Why Chinese Factories Typically Fail at NPI

Most Chinese manufacturers go through the New Product Introduction (NPI) process with a mindset of getting things done quickly. This might make sense when expected volumes are low, because, to be profitable, they shouldn’t spend a lot of engineering time on a product that will not generate significant business.

That’s why for many Chinese manufacturers, their main objectives end up being:

  • Getting a nice-looking sample in customer’s hands so the customers feel good, and agrees to send a deposit and secure their orders;
  • Addressing the customer’s minimum requirements in terms of functions, safety, etc.; and
  • Starting production as soon as possible, so they can finish as soon as possible and move on to the next product.

However, when a product is going to be produced in high volumes (hundreds, thousands or even millions), a “let’s get it done quickly” approach will be self-destructive. Little problems that were disregarded previously can experience a multiplier effect once your factory has scaled up its production. Often, staff will discover serious issues at the most inconvenient times.

When mass production is already underway, any quality issue can generate a large loss and/or long delays (e.g. scrapping expensive material and having to order replacement materials). In short, sacrificing quality for speed is akin to accumulating a large debt to be paid over the coming years.

Industrial robotic arm blueprint

How APQP Supports NPI

The Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) process is a structured framework aimed at developing and introducing products that are up to customers’ expectations, even at scale. First developed by the automotive industry in the late 1980s, APQP is implemented today not only in automaker giants like General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford but far and wide within other industries as well.

What makes this process so successful is its emphasis on involving designers, process engineers, quality engineers, and manufacturing staff across the product development process to ensure that excellent results are produced at every stage of product development.

Auto manufacturers knew they would be ordering large quantities of specific components and that the quality of those components would affect the overall quality of the end-product. It was important to them that suppliers would apply APQP regardless of what they manufactured (metal, plastic, glass, electronics, textile, leather, etc).

Automakers also have a process for ensuring suppliers follow the APQP – it is the “PPAP”, which we won’t cover here – it is an excellent way for a customer to ensure suppliers follow good NPI practices.

Industrial robotic arm blueprint

The 5 Phases of APQP

As you can see in the graph, there are 5 core milestones/phases in APQP:

  1. Concept initiation/approval (significant planning work)
  2. Program approval (detailed design work)
  3. Prototype (along with detailed design & engineering work)
  4. Pilot run (a small batch, on the same materials and through the same processes & equipment as mass production, over and over until the rate reaches the rate planned for mass production)
  5. Production launch and further adjustments which should, by that time, be relatively limited.

By going through each of these properly during the product development process, you will be able to identify potential issues before products go into mass production.


The 5 Phases/Milestones of APQP

Do Manufacturers Need to Go Through All the APQP Phases for NPI?

Following APQP and all its phases is what the best companies do when it comes to NPI. However, each manufacturer is different and many may find certain phases more beneficial than others.

What is most important is to identify which phases bring the most value and focus on those. For example, you might skip the MSA (Measurement System Analysis) if you think the impact of biases, repeatability & reproducibility issues, etc. is minimal in your production. And, if you don’t do MSA, you might as well forget about SPC (Statistical Process Control).

If you only have a certain budget and a certain time window for your NPI efforts, it makes sense to skip a few steps. However, be aware that each shortcut will reduce your ability to prevent issues in mass production.

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